Notwithstanding the burgeoning literature on death, philosophers have tended to focus on the significance death has (or ought/ought not to have) for the one who dies. Thus, while the relevance one's own death has for others (and the significance others' deaths have for us) is often mentioned, it is rarely attributed any great importance to the purported real philosophical issues. This is a striking omission, not least because the deaths of others – and the anticipated effects our own death will have on those we leave behind – are normally of great importance outside the confines of academic philosophy. In this paper I want to do three things: (i) argue that philosophers' treatment of death tends to distort the issue (Sections I–III); (ii) outline some of the ways others' deaths figure in how we assess our own mortality (Sections IV–V); and (iii) raise some general questions about the value of ‘theorising’ death (Section VI).
1 Borges Jorges Luis, Labyrinths: Selected Stories and Other Writings (London: Penguin, 1970), 146.
2 See Heidegger Martin, Being and Time (Oxford: Blackwell, 1999), 289, 298, 303 (hereafter abbreviated BT); Lingis Alphonso, The Imperative (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1998), ch 16 (hereafter abbreviated IMP). I will assume that death is final; questions about immortality (and other forms of posthumous survival) are not the concern of this paper.
3 See Derrida Jacques and Stiegler Bernard, Echographies of Television (Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2002), 106 (hereafter abbreviated ECH); Pascal Blaise, Pensées (London: Penguin, 1995), §587 (hereafter abbreviated PEN); de Montaigne Michel, The Complete Essays (London: Penguin, 1991), 684 (hereafter abbreviated CE); Levinas Emmanuel, Alterity & Transcendence (London: Athlone, 1999), 155 (hereafter abbreviated A&T).
4 On one's last moments see Seneca, Ad Lucilium Epistulae Morales, Vol 1 (London: William Heinemann), 189 (hereafter abbreviated EP).
5 On the purported special epistemic and moral status of ‘last words’ see Kastenbaum Robert, ‘Last words’, The Monist 76 (1993). Frequently neglected here are the last words spoken to the dying by the living – most often, of course, these occur unwittingly and before any deathbed scene.
6 Rousseau Jean-Jacques, The Confessions (London: Penguin, 1953), 86. See also Derrida Jacques, Without Alibi (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2002), 95.
7 On photography and death see Barthes Roland, Camera Lucida (London: Vintage, 2000), 9, 14–15, 32, 82, 84, 96–97; ECH, 39, 51, 97, 115ff, 132.
8 See IMP, 154. We are surrounded by the dead in other less obvious ways. As Sartre notes, we the living ‘decide the fate of the dead’ – those who precede us, who form the cultural-historical background each of us inherits, and so on (see Sartre Jean-Paul, Being and Nothingness: An Essay on Phenomenological Ontology (London and New York: Routledge, 1993), 542–543 (hereafter abbreviated B&N)).
9 ‘A person's own death does become real to him after the death of both parents. Until then, there was someone else who was “supposed to” die before him; now that no one stands between him and death, it becomes his “turn”’(Nozick Robert, The Examined Life: Philosophical Meditations (New York, London, et al.: Touchstone, 1989), 20; see also 22). Bauman describes the death of a loved one as ‘a death experience “once removed” ’, just as the ‘breakdown of a relationship cutting an interhuman bond also carries a stamp of “finality” ’(Bauman Zygmunt, Liquid Fear (Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2006), 44 (hereafter abbreviated LIQ)).
10 Montaigne ridicules this in CE, 685.
11 See Solomon Robert, ‘Death fetishism, morbid solipsism’, in Malpas J. and Solomon R.C. (eds.), Death and Philosophy (London and New York: Routledge, 1998), 152 (hereafter abbreviated DFM). Note Cockburn's discussion of grief for the death of a loved one (Cockburn David, Other Human Beings (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1990), 155–157 (hereafter abbreviated OHB)).
12 See A&T, 154; Mothersill Mary, ‘Death’, in Hanfling O. (ed.), Life and Meaning: A Reader (Oxford: Blackwell, 1996), 86 (hereafter abbreviated DE).
13 See DFM, 168, 172. There are many ways in which one can respect the dead, and these are highly culturally-historically malleable. Wittgenstein thus writes: ‘Recall that after Schubert's death his brother cut some of Schubert's scores into small pieces and gave such pieces, consisting of a few bars, to his favourite pupils. This act, as a sign of piety, is just as understandable to us as the different one of keeping the scores untouched, accessible to no one. And if Schubert's brother had burned the scores, that too would be understandable as a sign of piety’ (Wittgenstein Ludwig, ‘Remarks on Frazer's Golden Bough’, in Luckhardt C.G. (ed.), Wittgenstein: Sources and Perspectives (Bristol: Thoemmes Press, 1996), 66 (hereafter abbreviated RFGB)). This point can be extended further, for there is nothing inherently peculiar about eating the flesh of the dead out of respect – no matter how distasteful we might find such a practice. After all, it is not that difficult to see how literally consuming an other – literally ‘taking the other into oneself’ – could be performed out of deep love and devotion to their memory. As Winch rightly insists, to understand such practices, it is important to situate them in their broader cultural context (see Winch Peter, ‘Understanding a Primitive Society’, American Philosophical Quarterly 1:4 (October 1964), 310 (hereafter abbreviated UPS)); though this does not in itself commit one to some form of cultural relativism.
14 Wittgenstein Ludwig, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (London and New York: Routledge, 1995), 6.4311. See also A&T, 155; IMP, 153. Note also Winch's remarks on the intimate relation between our conception of life and death (UPS, 322–323).
15 See also Schopenhauer Arthur, The World as Will and Idea: Abridged in One Volume (London: Dent/Everyman, 2000), 211.
16 See DFM, 170; Kant Immanuel, Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 59 (hereafter abbreviated APP). According to Sartre, death is the ‘triumph of the point of view of the Other over the point of view which I am toward myself’ (B&N, 540). While alive, I have control over my life's meaning and value. My facticity, the life-projects I choose, and my interpretation of both (indeed, the latter is part of the ‘project of the self’ (ibid. 541)) are in my ‘own hands’ (ibid. 543). But with the advent of my death, it is the other who becomes ‘the guardian’ of the value and meaning of my life. In death I thus ‘lose…[my] personal existence’ (ibid. 541–542) to what others will make of it; whether they offer a positive ‘reconstruction’, let my life fall into ‘oblivion’ and become ‘forgotten’ (ibid. 541), subsume me ‘into a mass’ or ‘collective existence’ (ibid. 542), and so on. For Sartre then, the ‘very existence of death alienates us wholly in our own life to the advantage of the Other. To be dead is to be prey for the living. This means therefore that the one who tries to grasp the meaning of his future death must discover himself as the future prey of others’ (ibid. 543). Needless to say, Sartre's portrayal of ‘the Other’ as threatening here is in keeping with his broader, and rather bleak, account of intersubjectivity. On a more cathartic note, see Aurelius' remarks about others wanting ‘to be rid of us’ (Aurelius Marcus, Meditations (London: Penguin, 2006), 103–104 (hereafter abbreviated MED)).
17 See DFM, 170–171.
18 See Epicurus , ‘Death is nothing to us’, in Helm P. (ed.), Faith and Reason: Oxford Readers (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999) (hereafter abbreviated DNU); Lucretius , ‘We have nothing to fear in death’, in Hanfling O. (ed.), Life and Meaning: A Reader (Oxford: Blackwell, 1996) (hereafter abbreviated NFD). Bauman thinks that the prototypical fear is fear of death; indeed: ‘Dangers are conceived as “threats” and derive their frightening power from the meta-danger of death’ (LIQ, 52; see also Rorty Amélie Oksenberg, ‘Fearing Death’, Philosophy 58, 224 (April 1983), 181 (hereafter abbreviated FD)).
19 Nagel argues against this alleged symmetry in Nagel Thomas, ‘Death’, in Fischer J.M. (ed.), The Metaphysics of Death (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1993), 67–68 (hereafter abbreviated D).
20 On the latter see ibid., 62.
21 Solomon makes a similar point in DFM, 154, 155, 169.
22 Nagel Thomas, The View from Nowhere (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986), 225 (hereafter abbreviated VN); see also LIQ, 42–43. Solomon refers to the dead body (and our anxieties about what will happen to it upon death) in DFM, 173.
23 See also MED, 14.
24 What Heidegger calls ‘Being-come-to-an-end’ (BT, 282) and ‘Being-no-longer-in-the-world’ (ibid. 284).
25 Derrida Jacques, ‘As If I Were Dead: An Interview with Jacques Derrida’, in Brannigan J., Robbins R. and Wolfreys J. (eds.), Applying: To Derrida (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1996), 216 (hereafter abbreviated AID). See also APP, 60.
26 See Solomon's remarks in DFM, 175.
27 Interestingly, Wittgenstein suggests that belief in immortality can be understood, not as a quasi-empirical hypothesis regarding one's posthumous survival, but rather in terms of the feeling that one has ethical responsibilities to specific others that even death could not obliterate (see Wittgenstein Ludwig, ‘Lectures on Religious Belief’, from Barrett C. (ed.), Lectures and Conversations on Aesthetics, Psychology and Religious Belief (Oxford: Blackwell, 1994), 70).
28 Somewhat dismissively, Solomon refers to ‘the obvious comment that death affects the survivors as well as the deceased’ (DFM, 166).
29 See BT, 302; LIQ, 51; Derrida Jacques, ‘I have a taste for the secret’, in Derrida J. and Ferraris M., A Taste for the Secret (Oxford: Polity, 2001), 23. As we will see shortly, in this Heidegger is not entirely original (see Kierkegaard Søren, Concluding Unscientific Postscript (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1968), 148–151 (hereafter abbreviated CUP); Derrida Jacques, Aporias (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1993), 4).
30 On related themes see Gaita Raimond, The Philosopher's Dog (London and New York: Routledge, 2003), 85ff (hereafter abbreviated PD). Cockburn remarks: ‘[T]here is a significant continuity between the live and dead human being. For the extended, tangible being does not lose its history through death, and our understanding of what we are confronted with when we are confronted with a corpse is…crucially conditioned by our acknowledgement of its history’ (OHB, 187–188).
31 See Pascal's remarks in PEN, §170.
32 According to Levinas, death is not the ‘possibility of impossibility’ (as Heidegger maintains), for this, he thinks, implies ‘a human power’. Rather, death is better described as ‘“an impossibility of possibility” ’ (A&T, 155). See also Derrida Jacques (with Maurice Blanchot), The Instant of my Death/Demeure: Fiction and Testimony (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2000), 65 (hereafter abbreviated DEM).
33 And similarly: ‘No one can take the Other's dying away from him’, for ‘[b]y its very essence, death is in every case mine’ (BT, 284).
34 See Harries Karsten, ‘Death and Utopia: Towards a Critique of the Ethics of Satisfaction’, in Sallis J. (ed.), Radical Phenomenology: Essays in Honour of Martin Heidegger (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1978), 138, 141ff, 145, 148–149 (hereafter abbreviated DU). As Harries rightly notes, Heidegger's use of the term ‘authenticity’ has a normative dimension (see ibid. 147).
35 See also BT, 302; IMP, 155.
36 See BT, 298.
37 Winch Peter, Trying to Make Sense (Oxford: Blackwell, 1987), 174.
38 In a similar vein, Derrida stresses his own interest in death as a possibility, not merely an inevitability (see Derrida Jacques, (various remarks in) Glendinning S. (ed.), Arguing with Derrida (Oxford: Blackwell, 2001), 102ff).
39 See BT, 295.
40 Heidegger insists that his ‘existential Interpretation of death takes precedence over any biology and ontology of life’, just as it provides the necessary ‘foundation for any investigation of death which is biographical or historiological, ethnological or psychological’ (ibid. 291). Likewise, anthropological studies of how death is perceived and dealt with in different cultures presuppose an ‘existential analytic’ of Dasein and ‘corresponding conception of death’ (ibid. 292).
41 Heidegger briefly refers to Tolstoy's ‘The death of Ivan Ilych’ in ibid., 495 n xii.
42 Tolstoy Leo, ‘The death of Ivan Ilych’, in The Raid and Other Stories (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982), 233 (hereafter abbreviated DII).
43 See also CUP, 151. Solomon emphasises much the same thing in DFM, 158–159.
44 Seneca similarly notes: ‘There is no fixed count of our years. You do not know where death awaits you; so be ready for it everywhere’ (EP, 191). And likewise, Epictetus variously writes: ‘Let death and exile and every other thing which appears dreadful be daily before your eyes; but most of all death…’ (Discourses of Epictetus with the Encheiridion and Fragments (London: Bell and Sons, 1912), 387 (hereafter abbreviated DOE)); ‘Do you not know that both disease and death must surprise us while we are doing something? the husbandman while he is tilling the ground, the sailor while he is on his voyage? what would you be doing when death surprises you…?’ (ibid. 209).
45 Levinas never forgave either Heidegger's involvement with National Socialism, or his silence on this matter after the war.
46 Levinas Emmanuel, God, Death, and Time (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2000), 21 (hereafter abbreviated GDT).
47 See also A&T, 155–156; LIQ, 29–30.
48 See E&I, ch 2.
49 Levinas Emmanuel, ‘Ethics of the infinite’, in Kearney R., Dialogues with Contemporary Continental Thinkers: The Phenomenological Heritage (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1984), 62 (hereafter EOI). See also A&T, 157, 167; Mortley Raoul, French Philosophers in Conversation: Levinas, Schneider, Serres, Irigaray, Le Doeuff, Derrida (London and New York: Routledge, 1991), 15 (hereafter abbreviated FPC).
50 See also A&T, 167. Cockburn discusses the deaths of strangers in OHB, 183–184.
51 See also A&T, 161.
52 See also Derrida's remarks on his friendship with Paul de Man in Derrida Jacques, Memoires for Paul de Man (New York: Columbia University Press, 1989), 29.
53 See Levinas Emmanuel, Ethics and Infinity: Conversations with Philippe Nemo (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 1992), 86 (hereafter abbreviated E&I); Robbins J. (ed.), Is it Righteous to Be? Interviews with Emmanuel Levinas (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2001), 135, 204 (hereafter abbreviated IRB). According to Cockburn, others' ‘irreplaceability’ is poorly understood as their possessing a collection of ‘psychological characteristics’ (OHB, 158), but is rather inextricably connected to their having ‘a particular history’ (ibid. 155; see also 156–157, 183, 187); a history nobody else could possibly have without being that person.
54 See Derrida Jacques, The Gift of Death (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1995), 46 (hereafter abbreviated GOD).
55 According to Levinas, the finite, vulnerable body is the ‘condition of giving’ (GDT, 188; see also Levinas Emmanuel, Otherwise than Being Or Beyond Essence (Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1994), 77). Levinas, albeit tacitly, retains Heidegger's emphasis on death as possible at-any-moment insofar as the former's concern with the death of the other is not restricted to the actually dying other (though, of course, we are all in a sense always already dying). That is, for Levinas, the other's inherent fragility includes their being vulnerable to death at any moment, not merely their being vulnerable to death one day.
56 For more detail on this, see Plant Bob, Wittgenstein and Levinas: Ethical and Religious Thought (London and New York: Routledge, 2005), 131ff (hereafter abbreviated W&L).
57 See also E&I, 86.
58 See also Levinas Emmanuel, Outside the Subject (London: Athlone, 1993), 44 (hereafter abbreviated OS).
59 Levinas Emmanuel, Hand S. (ed.), The Levinas Reader (Oxford: Blackwell, 1996), 83; see also 86; E&I, 89, 96; IRB, 48. Levinas insists that ‘access to the face is straightaway ethical’ (E&I, 85; see also 87, 97). Note also Barthes' remarks on ‘waiting’ (specifically for one's lover) as a ‘minor mourning’ for the other who is ‘as if dead’ (Barthes Roland, A Lover's Discourse: Fragments (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1990), 37–38).
60 See A&T, 164. Levinas' attitude toward non-human animals is rather negative (see Levinas Emmanuel, ‘The Paradox of Morality: An Interview with Emmanuel Levinas’, in Bernasconi R. and Wood D. (eds.), The Provocation of Levinas: Rethinking the Other (London and New York: Routledge, 1988) (hereafter abbreviated POM); Bob Plant, ‘Welcoming dogs: Levinas and “the animal” question’, forthcoming in Philosophy & Social Criticism (USA)).
61 For more detail on this recurrent theme in Levinas' work, see W&L, ch 6.
62 Levinas Emmanuel, Entre Nous: Thinking-of-the-Other (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998), 148; see also OS, 48; FPC, 19; POM, 172; Levinas Emmanuel, Of God who comes to mind (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1998), 169, 171, 175.
63 See also GDT, 17; A&T, 162; GOD, 51, 68–69, 70–71, 85–86. Echoing Levinas, Derrida similarly thinks that ‘We are all survivors who have been granted a temporary reprieve’ (Derrida Jacques, Learning to Live Finally: The Last Interview (Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), 24 (hereafter abbreviated LLF)). Indeed, he confesses that this ‘question of survival’ has ‘always haunted’ him in ‘every instant’ of his life ‘in a concrete and unrelenting fashion’ (LLF, 25–26). After all, ‘life is living on, life is survival’ (ibid., 26; see also 51–52; DEM, 45; Derrida Jacques, Anidjar G. (ed.), Acts of Religion (New York and London: Routledge, 2002), 383; Derrida Jacques, ‘To Forgive: The Unforgivable and the Imprescriptible’, in Caputo J.D., Dooley M. and Scanlon M.J. (eds.), Questioning God (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2001), 49; Derrida Jacques, Adieu: To Emmanuel Levinas (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1999), 6).
64 Solomon dubs Heidegger the ‘patriarch of death fetishism in philosophy’ (DFM, 163).
65 MacEvoy Leslie, ‘The Heideggerian Bias Toward Death’, Metaphilosophy 27,1–2 (January/April, 1996), 64 (hereafter abbreviated HBD). According to Secomb, that I cannot die the other's death can be broadened, for I cannot ‘experience the other's experiences’ either. As such, ‘being-with-others in their dying is not unique in this regard’ (Secomb Linnell, ‘Philosophical deaths and feminine finitude’, Mortality 4, 2 (1999), 114 (hereafter abbreviated PDF)).
66 See HBD, 64, 73ff.
67 See also PDF, 123. In this regard, Secomb claims, Heidegger's analysis is ‘partial and incomplete’ (ibid. 114).
68 See also ibid. 113.
69 See also ibid. 121–122. More caustically, Solomon describes Heidegger's account of being-towards-death as ‘morbid solipsism, a denial of the obvious in favour of an obscure and mock-heroic philosophical theory’ (DFM, 175).
70 See DFM, 175. This is not to say that death (amongst other things) is conceived of in radically different ways across different cultures. As Winch (following Wittgenstein (see RFGB, 66–67)) puts it, the ‘very conception of human life involves certain…“limiting notions” ’– notably those surrounding ‘birth, death [and]…sexual relations’ (UPS, 322; see also 324; Winch Peter, ‘Nature and Convention’, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 20 (1960), 238–239). The horizon of possibilities for how human beings conceptualise and deal with these natural phenomena may not be radically open, but neither is it rigidly circumscribed. It seems to me that, regarding issues of mortality, philosophers could learn a lot from other academic disciplines (anthropology, sociology, psychology, and so on), not to mention those actually working with and caring for the dying.
71 See also EOI, 60.
72 One way of making this point more plausible (though somewhat less Levinasian) is to follow Cockburn's distinction between first- and third-person perspectives on suffering and death. He suggests that there is an important ‘asymmetry’ (OHB, 167) between others' deaths and one's own death. My concern (anxiety, fear, horror) about my own death does not depend upon who I happen to be, but it is highly relevant to my concern about others' deaths whose death it is. In this sense, my relation to my own death is morally ‘thin’ (ibid. 193). It would therefore be misleading to say that my death matters more to me than the death of my lover or child. (Cockburn places great emphasis on those intimates with whom one shares a personal history (see ibid. 155–157).) In other words: ‘What is for me an overwhelmingly significant fact – the fact that it is Jane [for example, my lover] who is dying – is barely registered in the internal standpoint [regarding my own death]’ (ibid. 168; see also 194–195). My concern about Jane is ‘concern about a particular person…an individual with a history’ (ibid. 183; see also 187), but the concern I have about my own death (and suffering) is more akin to a ‘violent reflex’ (ibid. 193; see also 194). As such, we should not think that focussing on the latter – as philosophers are prone to do – is going to help clarify the real significance of death (see ibid. 168). Following this broadly Wittgensteinian approach, we might therefore say that Levinas is not entirely off-beam, but that the other's death is not simply more important than mine; rather, the significance of each is different. In short, the former is, to use Cockburn's terms, morally ‘rich’ (ibid. 193).
73 Nozick Robert, Philosophical Explanations (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1981), 582.
74 Scarre Geoffrey, ‘On caring about one's posthumous reputation’, American Philosophical Quarterly 38 (2001), 209 (hereafter abbreviated PR). See also Margalit Avishai, The Ethics of Memory (Cambridge, Mass. and London: Harvard University Press, 2002), 91ff.
75 This sort of ‘living on’ seems rather paltry, for presumably what one wants from immortality is self-continuity; that it is I who continue to exist, not merely (for example) the memory of my former life in the thoughts of others.
76 See also PD, 92; DFM, 173.
77 This does not mean that only those with offspring can have such posthumous wishes; one may similarly want the future to be ‘better’ for friends, relatives, work colleagues, one's favourite charity or beloved football team.
78 In Sartre's Nausea, Rôquentin makes a similar point: ‘[E]ven my death would have been In the way. In the way, my corpse, my blood on these stones, between these plants, at the back of this smiling garden. And the decomposed flesh would have been In the way in the earth which would receive my bones, at last, cleaned, stripped, peeled, proper and clean as teeth, it would have been In the way’ (Jean-Paul Sartre, ‘Mysticism of the Absurd’ (extract from Nausea), in Westphal J. and Levensen C. (eds.), Life and Death (Indianapolis/Cambridge: Hackett, 1993), 61).
79 Of publishing (and ‘writing’ in the narrow sense) Derrida remarks: ‘The trace I leave signifies to me at once my death…and the hope that this trace survives me’ – though this is not, he insists, ‘a striving for immortality’, but rather something ‘structural’ (LLF, 32). In short: ‘I live my death in writing’ (ibid. 33).
80 As I have argued elsewhere, this emphasis is best understood by reading Levinas as a post-Holocaust thinker (see W&L, 128ff).
81 Mothersill makes a related point in DE, 90.
82 Indeed, one need not have led a particularly murky life in order to feel anxiety – and even prospective embarrassment or shame – at the thought of others (perhaps especially other intimates) sorting through one's personal belongings. Love letters, diaries (and so on) are normally kept private. But at death such private items soon become public – albeit to a restricted audience.
83 It also conflicts with my not wanting to prevent others from their need to grieve, engage in funeral rites (and so on).
84 For example, when an other is dying we might well ‘fear that we shall not be able to endure…[her] suffering’ (IMP, 160). We may similarly fear not being available to care for an other when death comes to them (see ibid. 161).
85 Craig recalls feeling ‘unbearable sadness’ (Craig William Lane, ‘The Absurdity of Life without God’, in Klemke E.D. (ed.), The Meaning of Life (2nd Edition), (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 41) when first learning that one day he would die.
86 Regarding ‘fear of death’ Rorty remarks: ‘Some fear that the world will go on without their being there to experience it…The drama will continue without their participation, and perhaps none the worse for that’. Interestingly, she continues: ‘What turns such sorrow into fear is the thought that all our efforts to live well…were all in vain…that our lives were idle and pointless, our enterprises arbitrary’ (FD, 177 my emphasis).
87 I am not suggesting that ‘fear’ plays no role here, merely that other emotional responses are at least equally appropriate.
88 See DFM, 174.
89 Camus Albert, The Myth of Sisyphus (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1971), 72.
90 See OHB, 193; Hanfling Oswald, The Quest for Meaning (Oxford and Cambridge, USA: Blackwell, 1995), 32–33.
91 It is a curious notion that experience as such, regardless of its specific content, could be ‘good’, ‘bad’ or anything else.
92 Rorty plausibly argues that ‘fear of death’ can, at least in part, be cashed out in terms of its natural (‘pre-rational’ (FD, 180)) ‘functionality’ (ibid. 179); that is, fear of death is ‘more efficient than an indefinite number of particular fears’, such as ‘fear of exposure in very low temperatures, fear of dehydration, fear of this and fear of that’ (ibid. 181). She goes on to suggest that the ‘metaphysical fear of death – angst at one's non-being’ (ibid. 185) is a ‘by-product’ of functional fear (ibid. 186). In a nutshell then, fear of death is ‘a natural fact, a consequence of being constituted in a certain way’ (ibid. 188).
93 See also DU, 150ff.
94 Mothersill refers to the ‘academicism’ of ‘Philosophical writing on the topic of death’ (DE, 87; see also 88–89). More caustically, she criticises Nagel: ‘Pronounced in a vacuum, “Not only do I not want to die, but it would be a bad thing if I were to die” is rather pretentious’ (ibid. 91).
95 In a similar vein, Solomon writes: ‘[W]e are, first and foremost, phenomenologically and ontologically as well as biologically, social animals. One's own death is always, except in the most lonely of cases, a disruption (one hopes, not too minor) of a network of relationships. And even in those lonely cases, one's death is, in one's own thinking, a disruption of past or possible relationships, or, at the outer reaches of pathos, a lament that one is, quite unnaturally, dying all alone’ (DFM, 175). I agree with Solomon that what is important about death is not the mere ‘dread of the unknown’ or the ‘confrontation with nothingness’ (ibid. 174), but rather the ‘social dimension of death’ (ibid. 175). However, I see no reason to follow him in judging even the latter as manifesting an unflattering degree of ‘self-interest’ (ibid. 176).
96 Despite his numerous remarks to the contrary, Solomon sometimes suggests that questions about one's own death are ‘quite distinct’ from questions ‘concerning the death of others’ (ibid. 155). I think this is far from obvious.
97 As Nagel insists in his discussion of the absurd, he is not interested in the way feelings of absurdity arise in ordinary situations (the sorts of experiences Camus famously describes), but the deeper ‘philosophical sense of absurdity’; namely, the way ‘pretension and reality inevitably clash for us all’ (Nagel Thomas, ‘The Absurd’, in Mortal Questions (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1979), 13 my emphasis).
98 The customary philosophical distinction between merely ‘empirical’ and genuinely ‘conceptual’ (properly philosophical) questions seems to me very shaky indeed.
99 Thanks to Gerry Hough for his comments on an earlier draft of this paper.
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